Ivy League Weekly Roundup: A Two-Team Race

What Happened Last Week: Makai Mason and Yale avoided Dartmouth déjà vu, finishing a perfect home regular season. Princeton did the same, essentially ending Columbia’s title hopes. The Bulldogs and Tigers now prepare for long road trips with their seasons on the line.

Three Thoughts:

1. Yale sure seems to be limping to the finish. Last week, the team confirmed that Jack Montague will not return this season. Makai Mason is becoming more and more banged up. Nick Victor’s shooting has cooled off a bit over the past month, Anthony Dallier has missed his last ten three-pointers, and Khaliq Ghani has been uneven off the bench. Rookie Trey Phills took six shots against Harvard on Friday, more than in all other Ivy games combined. Yale’s frontcourt is as strong as ever, but someone needs to get it the ball.

Still, the Bulldogs are 11-1, and they’re one weekend from at least a share of the Ivy title. They cleanly outplayed Harvard in an ugly game (59-50, not as close as the final score), but they struggled with Dartmouth. Miles Wright gave the Big Green a two-point lead in the final seconds with a three-pointer, steal, and free throw, until Mason did this:

Mason shot just 4-18 for the game, but the sophomore — already with a reputation as a big-game player — also went 7-8 from the line to help the Bulldogs close out overtime. Yale played beautiful basketball for the first half of the Ivy season; at this point, ugly wins are more than good enough.

2. Columbia built its best team in years around three-point shooting, so it’s been sadly ironic to see its Ivy title hopes dashed by opponents doing the same. In the Lions’ first loss, Yale shot 10-18 from distance; in their second, Devin Cannady’s crazy shots forced overtime; and in their third, Princeton made 13 of 21 treys in a five-point win. The Lions have allowed the highest three-point percentage in Ivy play (39%). They haven’t helped themselves in that regard — they’ve also allowed the highest volume of three-point attempts — but it’s not hard to see them still in the title hunt with a little more luck.

Princeton_shooting_Columbia_20160226

Columbia has played quite well in other ways. Its defense has improved in Ivy play, forcing the league’s highest steal rate. After bludgeoning Penn on Saturday, the Lions jumped to #102 in KenPom’s rankings, and they’ve outscored Ivy opponents by .11 points per possession. That would be good enough to challenge for the title in some years, but not given the play of Yale (+.19) and Princeton (+.18).

3. For the second time in three years, Penn and Princeton’s women’s teams may be headed for a winner-take-all showdown at Jadwin. After Cornell upset the Quakers in Ithaca on Friday, the P’s are tied atop the league; both will be heavily favored to beat Dartmouth and Harvard next weekend, which would make them 12-1 heading into the March 8 finale. Penn won in a similar situation in 2014, snapping the Tigers’ four-year NCAA tournament run; the Quakers also won this year’s first meeting in the final minute. (And, sadly, a women’s #2BidIvy is now almost impossible.)

Weekly Awards:

Player of the Week: Steven Cook, Princeton — Cook scored a game-high 23 points in Princeton’s win over Columbia, none more important than the final three. The Lions had cut a double-digit deficit to four points, and Cook was stranded in the corner with the shot clock winding down when he launched a contested three-pointer that hit nothing but net. He finished the game a blistering 5-6 from three-point range and was aggressive off the dribble. Cook and the Tigers ran Columbia off the three-point line aggressively, limiting the Lions to only 12 attempts (four makes).

Rookie of the Week: Corey Johnson, Harvard — Johnson was most of the Crimson’s offense on Saturday, scoring a career-high 24 points in a 61-52 win. As usual, he did most of his damage from long range, splashing six three-pointers; he’s hit 31 treys in Ivy play (and 70 for the full season), trailing only fellow rookies Matt Morgan and Jackson Donahue.

The Week Ahead: It all comes down to the final full Ivy weekend, with both Princeton and Yale going on the road. Each has roughly even odds of sweeping, but in different ways: The Tigers will be favored at both Harvard and Dartmouth, but neither game will be easy on the road. The Bulldogs should beat sputtering Cornell (they won the first meeting by 31), but in their current state, they might be a slight underdog at Columbia in their season finale.

Power Rankings:

  1. Princeton (10-1) — The Tigers’ shooting was so hot on Friday night, even their student section got in on the action with this thousand-dollar halfcourt shot from junior Scott Bechler:

  1. Yale (11-1) — Justin Sears had a ho-hum weekend by his standards, which illustrates how high his standards are: 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists against Harvard; 14, 11 and five blocks against Dartmouth. His KenPom player page is a sea of yellow (denoting high league or national rankings), and I’d be shocked if he’s not the Player of the Year again.
  2. Columbia (9-3) — Maodo Lo might not be the most famous member of his immediate family. As The New York Times wrote this week, Lo’s mother is an artist whose works have been featured at the Guggenheim and MoMA, and who instilled a curiosity for art into Columbia’s star.
  3. Penn (5-6) — Darien Nelson-Henry closed his career at The Palestra with two strong games, going for 16 points and 10 rebounds against Cornell and adding 18 efficient points against Columbia. He ranks in the top 10 among Ivy players in usage rate, true shooting percentage, offensive and defensive rebounding, and block rate, and he’s a surprising 11th in assist rate. Though he missed most of two games in late January, Nelson-Henry is well on track for some All-Ivy hardware.
  4. Harvard (4-8) — Tommy Amaker’s recruiting skill is unquestioned, but for several reasons (some fair, some not) he’s developed a reputation as a poor in-game coach, especially in managing personnel. His usage of Zena Edosomwan this year hasn’t helped matters. The center played only 26 minutes across two games this weekend; he battled foul trouble at Yale and Brown, but didn’t foul out either time. According to The Crimson, Amaker didn’t feel Edosomwan would be effective with the threat of fouling out hanging over his head, but this isn’t the first time his usage has been puzzling. Edosomwan is Harvard’s best player by far, and he needs to be on the court as often as possible.
  5. Dartmouth (3-9) — The Big Green were so close to a sweep, losing both games in overtime at Brown and Yale. A sweep would have given them a chance at a second straight top-half finish; instead, the Big Green can still play spoiler on the final weekend again.
  6. Brown (3-9) — After five straight losses, Brown stemmed its slide with a thrilling overtime win over Dartmouth. Playing in front of his brother, Steven Spieth scored a game-high 21 points, and JR Hobbie’s three-pointer in the final seconds forced overtime.
  7. Cornell (2-10) — The Big Red has had fewer than 10 assists in six of its eight consecutive losses. That’s a defining characteristic of this year’s team, which has assisted only 42% of its baskets this year, among the bottom 10 nationally. Not coincidentally, Cornell ranks last in Ivy offensive efficiency (.96 ppp).

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